She gets up from the recliner. She’s wearing her old robe and pink sweatpants. I fix her a plate, pull out a chair for her. She sits down and starts to eat like she’s starving. I know better than to ask when she ate last.
The stove is a disaster. Beneath the towel, charred patties congeal in an inch of greasy water. The whole stove smells rancid, caked with ashy spatters. The calendar on the wall–December 1981, when Pop died–is singed at the corners.
I feel my anger rise. “You’re just lucky you didn’t burn down the fucking house.”
The patrolman was deferential as he opened the door. “Kept it just as we found it, sir. Nothing disturbed. Made sure meself.”
Inspector O’Neill nodded and stepped in and glanced around the small living room.
Soft eyes, he called it, this way of simultaneously seeing everything and nothing.
First impressions: masculine, almost to the point of parody.
Military clean. Leather chairs, glass table, a framed reproduction of Bird’s Death of General Braddock on the wall.
In the hallway to the bedroom, two portraits: the Virgin Mary, eyes skyward. A lady with heavy eyebrows and a stern mouth.
His mother, obviously.
Commander Bragg lit his Camel with the smoldering butt of his last one, smoked down to a nubbin. Lieutenant Roy did not remark on this. The eyes of the world are upon you.
“You’re sure they are all evacuated,” said Commander Bragg. It was not a question.
“One hundred percent, sir,” said Lieutenant Roy. “Triple checked.”
“Because if anyone is in the zone, anyone at all, they’re dead. You understand that?”
But in truth, Lieutenant Roy was only 90% sure.
Language barriers and the innate stubbornness of the islanders, especially the old ones, made ancillary casualties a real possibility.
Read the other stories
My shortest foster stint was five days. That was when the county was laying off social workers and didn’t have time to check up on what was going on in the foster houses.
Let’s just say it was bad and leave it there.
The fifth house was the real heartbreaker, the Garcias.
They were sweet people.
Ten kids, so what was one more?
Mrs. Garcia had this party for her daughter Luz, a Quinceañera. Invited lots of kids from the neighborhood. First time in my life I felt I belonged somewhere.
One day ICE came knocking. They got deported.
The pool was the main reason Sy had moved into the building. Dr. Schwartz prescribed daily exercise, and what was better than swimming? Get the heart racing without punishing the old bones. Best of all, the time to unwind and think.
Only it wasn’t like that. The pool was always full of these strapping young goys who swam laps as though masturbating in public.
The only time Sy knew with certainty the pool would be empty was Friday night at nine when they were out engaging in mating rituals.
Sy tried to keep Shabbat by praying, but sometimes he forgot.
The coyote assured them there would be water stations set in the desert by kindly Americanos, but the only one they’d come across in a hundred kilometers of walking was hacked into ruin, the tank shot full of holes and dry as a bone.
Gustavo felt his tongue swelling in his mouth, the sun heavy as a blanket on his neck and shoulders.
He shook the remaining gallon jug of water, mostly gone. The children had long since stopped crying, trudging in silence, one weary foot in front of the other.
The mountains swayed in the heat, never getting closer.
I came here in 1946. I was lucky.
Uncle Abram had some pull with the State Department. He had a job for me and a place to live. After a couple years, I got my own apartment on Amsterdam next door to Orwasher Bakery where I worked.
In those days, you’d often see the Nazi tattoos given us at the camps. Some were ashamed and tried to hide them in long sleeves, but I didn’t care. I saw mine as a scar, the same as if I’d survived a fire.
These days you seldom see one at all. People are forgetting.
War, the demon, rolls across the land, killing and maiming all it touches, sowing misery and pain. The old men who wage it sit in their castles and congratulate one another.
Yet in this place, the war has never truly ended. Only last week a child ran along the beach laughing with delight as the surf kissed her ankles, only to disappear in a plume of shattered sand when she trod on one of their land-mines. Indeed, the village has at least a dozen children who lost their limbs or their eyesight rather than their lives, the so-called “lucky ones.”
“Best we get there early,” says Jakes. “This snow’ll fill the place proper.”
“Damn me,” I says. “More water in the soup, and probably a longer sermon.”
“That soup’s still’s hot, ain’t it?” he retorts. “Besides, the coffee’s decent.”
“I got about a quart of wine here,” I says. “Maybe I’ll stay out.”
“Use your head, Togs,” he says. “You drink that now, what’ll you do later? You’ll freeze, is what. Come with me to the mission. We’ll get some soup and sawdust bread, listen to the sky-pilot’s Jesus Jaw. Afterward, we’ll find a warm spot and drink that wine.”
We’re all subject to luck, and luck had me draw the short straw.
It could have been any of us.
We said our goodbyes, no tears shed.
I sit now looking around at this room, cleaner than any place I’ve ever been.
The broker talked endlessly about how all this was to be painless, but I’m still frightened.
I try to imagine all that this money will buy, but my mind is drifting.
All those pieces of me, how they’ll live on in these people.
My lungs, my heart, even my eyes.
What will these strangers see through my eyes?